The Catacombs Catacombs International Guide
Space 1999 In The UK

UNITED KINGDOM

Year One

The UK market was not large or wealthy enough to cover the costs of an expensive series like Space: 1999, but while it was not as vital a market as the U.S., it was an important one. The failure of the series in its home market must have been an important contribution to ITC's decision to cancel the series.

ITV regional companies in the mid-1970s

At the time, the British market was composed of two state financed, non-commercial channels run by the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC1 and BBC2), and the commercial Independent Television (ITV) network, made up of 15 independent regional stations. Five ITV companies dominated the network: the two London companies Thames and LWT, ATV in the Midlands (which owned ITC), and Granada (north-west England) and Yorkshire. These served the largest population concentrations, earned the largest advertising revenues, and produced most of the network programming, as well as effectively controlling the joint network programming committee which decided ITV programme schedules.

Originally the series was planned to begin in autumn 1974. As production fell behind schedule, this was pushed back to December and finally early 1975. The dates slipped so much that the final episodes would be screened during the dead summer months, so the whole show was finally pushed back to autumn 1975, one year later than planned.

The ITV companies were all assertive of their independence and regional character, and in autumn 1975 they were trying to prove it. Additionally, science fiction was strongly regarded as children's entertainment, as exemplified by the BBC's Dr Who or Anderson's own puppet series. Space: 1999 was lost in the "Big Season" promotion for new autumn programming on ITV. Like the U.S. it did not earn a network scheduling, instead being scattered around the week at different times. Most stations followed ATV in starting at 7pm on September 4th, 1975 (Grampian, Border, Scottish, Tynes-Tees, Yorkshire, UTV). London and Anglia began on Saturday 6th at 5.50, competing against Dr Who, a children's science fiction series on BBC1 which was in its 12th year and at its most popular- a suicidal piece of scheduling. One station, HTV in Wales and the West country, did not even begin the series until Friday, October 17th.

The weekly TV Times, which owned a legally enforced monopoly on publishing ITV schedules, could not feature on the series because of the scattered timings. One Channel Islands edition did feature the series with a photographic cover (the Channel Islands are the smallest and most isolated region of the ITV network, located just off the French coast). The children's film magazine series Clapperboard had a two part special on the Andersons career, which was networked and earned a small article in the TV Times. Merchandising was heavy, including a picture strip in the TV-inspired children's comic Look-In, while the Lyons Maid ice lolly had an animated television advertisement. Press coverage was not extensive and was largely negative. At the National Film Theatre in London on December 10th, 1975, the British Kinematographical Society organised a lecture (Mike Downing, who created the electronics for the series, was the BKS president). Gerry Anderson gave a talk to over a hundred BKS members and over two hundred NFT members, followed by clips from Breakaway, War Games and Dragon's Domain. Gerry Anderson, Brian Johnson, Johnny Byrne, Keith Wilson, Frank Watts and David Lane then answered questions, mostly on the special effects.

Year Two

While the first series had at least been shown, the second was poorly taken up by the regional stations. London and ATV both began on Saturday September 4th, 1976 (LWT at 11.30am, ATV at 5.40pm), but dropped it in December (these final episodes were still in post-production). ATV resumed in August 1977, London on Saturday 10th September 1977. Few others were as quick to take Year 2. Granada, for instance, waited until 15th April, 1977. Two stations, Southern and HTV (Wales and West Country), did not buy Space: 1999 Year 2. Most stations repeated Year 1 and 2 in 1977-1980.

In the early 1980s, LWT bought a number of ITC series including both series of Space: 1999 on behalf of the ITV network, which allowed any of the regional stations to show it between 1982 and 1984 (the end date was extended to 1985). Most of the stations did repeat the show, often as summer holiday filler. Among them was HTV, showing the Year 2 episodes for the first time. Southern, which had skipped Year 2 the first time, ignored it again.

After Space

The first national broadcast of Space: 1999 was a single episode, War Games, shown on BBC 1 at 11.15pm on 30th August 1994, as part of a week-long tribute to Lew Grade and his ITC action series. In 1995 the cable/satellite channel Bravo showed both series, with a well publicised campaign for a minority channel.

In 1996 the BBC bought the rights to show Space: 1999. Digital tape copies of the episodes were imported from the US and converted from NTSC to PAL (no new film copies were struck). The series was to remain on the shelf for over two years before the channel decided to show it. It first appeared on BBC2 (the second, minority BBC channel) on 11 May 1998 in an established and successful cult TV slot. The first three episodes were cut by 5 minutes, until viewer complaints led to an extended time slot. Later the series began to be preempted by sporting events, and the Year Two broadcast suffered the same sort of erratic scheduling, cuts and lack of publicity that it received on the first run. For some regions, it would be the first time some of these episodes were broadcast, 23 years after they were made.

The new owners of the series, Carlton Communications, released the series on DVD in 2001 and 2002, using the existing BBC tapes (with sound faults intact on Testament of Arkadia and New Adam New Eve). At the end of 2002, Carlton agreed to a merger (effectively a takeover) by its much larger rival Granada to form a new company, called ITV plc. In 2003, Space: 1999 became part of the library sold by Granada Ventures, the merchandise, licensing and publishing division of ITV plc. In 2005, the Carlton DVDs were discontinued, and the rights were taken up by Network Video, part of the Virgin Group, for a new release at the end of 2005.

At the same time as Network released their DVD set, the new digital channel ITV4 launched, with a wide range of vintage ITC series including Space: 1999, on Sundays at 7pm.

During 2006, ITV launched a trial of a new HD television channel, ITV-HD (this was eventually launched in 2008). During the trial, one of the series shown was Space: 1999 Year One, using the 16:9 HD masters that were created at the same time as the new standard masters used for the Network DVDs.


Copyright Martin Willey